Education Support Workers in Universities cannot be left out of the Analysis

PSI's Education Support & Culture Workers Network adopted a PSI declaration to the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference, which takes place once every 10 years.

The Declaration concludes that "There is no chance of bringing about profound positive change in higher education without the participation of education support workers, both male and female workers, who are instrumental in bringing educational policies into practice. To facilitate this effort, we call upon the World Higher Education Conference to give deserved space to trade union organizations, incorporate the issue of decent work in their agenda, and generate a serious compliance commitment to fundamental labor rights."


University Unions of Public Services International Declaration to the World Higher Education Conference 

UNESCO has ratified the call for the realization of the World Higher Education Conference - WHEC 2022- which will take place in Barcelona, Spain, from May 18 to 20, 2022. In its call, it has defined 10 main points that cover current and future debates about higher education, such as: the impact of Covid-19, the objectives of sustainable development, inclusion, quality and relevance of programs, academic mobility, governance, financing, data and knowledge production, international cooperation to improve synergies, and preparation for the futures of higher education. However, it omitted discussion of the work of teaching, as well as the non-teaching, technical-administrative and support services work in Higher Education Institutions (HEI).

On the need to incorporate an 11th point on “decent work in the institutions of higher education”

From the university union movement in Latin America, we understand that, without a doubt, those who have been most affected within the higher education system by the impact of the pandemic are the students. Many of them have not yet been able to resume face-to-face classes, and a significant number of them have momentarily abandoned their studies due to the lack of technological means (devices, connectivity, etc.), loss of their sources of income, family care needs, or reduction of educational budgets. After the students—or at the same level, depending on the point of view of the analysis—those who most suffered the immediate and medium-term effects, and will be affected by the consequential effects of the pandemic, are the workers, both teachers and non-teachers, who had to adapt to the virtual classes with no notice, which involved preparing digital educational materials, managing distance learning and teleworking—all without prior training and most of the time using personal means while assuming family care obligations that especially affected women and in an emergency situation that affected ability to exercise labor rights. In addition, many sectors whose tasks cannot be carried out remotely had to continue in person in difficult conditions and often without the appropriate means or agreed protocols, such as workers and health workers in university hospitals who faced the hardest moments of the pandemic helping the national and local health systems, as well as security, laboratory and research workers.

A global debate, which aims to promote a “roadmap” for higher education while looking towards the future, cannot dispense with the analysis of what is happening in terms of labor relations, working conditions, work, permanent training of its human resources, and democratic governance of the higher education systems. The formation of spaces for social dialogue for the administration of conflicts and overcoming problems are essential and fundamental for the design and execution of educational policies. Establishing a necessary consensus is critical to guaranteeing sustainability and effectiveness.

In the same vein—and understanding that UNESCO proposes an analysis with a starting point in the pandemic while marking a strategic path that finds roots and gives flesh to the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations—it is not possible to ignore the link between the points contemplated in SDG 4, while pursuing the goals of quality education, with those established in SDG 8, which promotes the guarantee of development within the framework of respect for decent work. It is impossible to conceive of a higher education that is not based on the fulfillment of the guarantees of freedom, equality, safety, and dignity for workers.

From the university trade unionists’ perspective, we demand the incorporation of an 11th point entitled “decent work in higher education institutions” into the WHEC 2022 debate, based on the certainty that, at regional and global level, there is a deficit in social dialogue and collective bargaining as a space for peaceful construction of agreements, and democratic management of labor relations within the Higher Education Institutions. The same is true of professional careers, training and permanent training, guarantee of decent and safe working conditions, and access to health care.

On the need to guarantee the plurality of representative voices in the WHEC 2022

The World Conferences on Higher Education are governed by a format that does not contemplate the dynamics of the sector characterized by the singular weight of Higher Education Institutions that enjoy autonomy, regional and national networks of HEIs, and trade union and student organizations. UNESCO’s organizational model prioritizes government representation and creates a space that does not guarantee the broad participation of the most important institutions and organizations in the system.

This model makes no sense. A “roadmap” for higher education cannot be drawn by governments alone. The WHEC requires a space where real representations of the higher education system can be heard with the breadth they deserve. The debate must be carried out by the universities, the student body, and technical-administrative, teaching and non-teaching workers. Of course, the voices of governments are important, but the debate cannot focus on government decisions.

International forums and the UN’s own structure have changed their decision-making to transparently incorporate civil society organizations—the hundred-year-old International Labor Organization has been a pioneer in this matter by adopting a tripartite system - governments, employers and workers - at all levels of discussion and decision-making—it is possible that UNESCO continues to be closed to social dialogue, building a model of debate closed to governments, with just a few escape valves by invitation on a fundamental issue for the development of societies and overcoming inequalities such as Education.

In addition, the student movement, trade union, and university networks have pointed out our concern and rejection of the participation of international financial organizations, and banks (international and regional) in the previous process and agenda of the Conference. We know the OECD to be a global driver of the commodification of higher education. Financial institutions and international organizations have had a hostile policy against public higher education, considering it an expense and always incorporating their “austerity” recipes that in many of our countries deepened inequality and poverty, leaving generations of young people without access to education and without a future degree.

We urge UNESCO authorities to ensure broad and full participation in the Conference of the Universities of regional and national university networks, as well as the student and trade union movement who are the real protagonists of higher education.

On the need to consolidate the regional space for higher education and claim the conclusions of the CRES2018

From the university union movement, we revindicate the results of the III Regional Conference on Higher Education (CRES 2018), the result of a broad and participatory debate between governments, and genuine representations of higher education in the region. We strongly support and reaffirm the validity of the concept that defines education as a public and social good, a fundamental human right, which must be guaranteed by the States for all people. This concept is the horizon of any roadmap, it is the goal to be met, any result, goal, purpose resulting from the discussions of WHEC 2022 must be an input for the construction of the universalization of higher education, linked to social justice and the elimination of inequalities in a world that prioritizes the preservation of the environment and sustainability.

We believe that it is essential to strengthen the construction of the global space for higher education as a meeting place capable of promoting the common denominators of national and regional expressions, managing differences, and collaborating in the governance of the sector. In this process prior to WHEC 2022 in which we must rise to the challenge, the unity of networks, universities, students and the trade union movement is essential. We especially vindicate the results achieved in the final document “Action Plan for the CRES”, which understood this need.

On the need to incorporate a humanist perspective committed to the social inclusion and elimination of poverty

Trade unions share the call of Pope Francis who, at the foundation of the University of Meaning, invited us to join forces beyond borders to put the university system, networks, teachers, researchers, workers, and students at the service of solving of the great problems of humanity, such as overcoming poverty, inequality, development equitable economic and environmental sustainability.

In the same vein, the International Labor Organization in its Centennial Declaration has expressed the need to build a “new social contract centered on people” generating a policy of training throughout life, guaranteeing fair social protection schemes, and establishing a model based on equality and preservation of the environment. WHEC 2022 cannot fail to address these issues, which are priorities in a world that is still plunged into the COVID crisis, which needs to regain hope, and leave behind a development model based on profit and chronic inequality.


We call for the strengthening of a unified position of the region in the WHEC2022.

It is time to put aside sectoral differences, contradictions, and competitions. We must convene all public universities, private non-profit humanistic universities, networks of national and regional universities, trade unions and the student movement. Through this convention we must seek a strategic agreement that calls for government policies to protect higher education against the attacks of global corporate power. Educational corporations are driving commodification, public underfunding, internationalization without quality standards, the subjugation of educational sovereignty, the disassociation of educational objectives with the models of development and social progress. This continued course will lead to the destruction of the educational model as a tool for individual and collective social progress.

There is no chance of bringing about profound positive change in higher education without the participation of education support workers, both male and female workers, who are instrumental in bringing educational policies into practice. To facilitate this effort, we call upon the World Higher Education Conference to give deserved space to the trade union organizations, incorporate the issue of decent work in their agenda, and generate a serious compliance commitment to fundamental labor rights.